I’ve been at this game now for 13 years, and I didn’t think anything could surprise me anymore. After witnessing Al Pacino — as himself — repeatedly hitting on a woman played by Adam Sandler in drag in Jack and Jill, I thought, “Well, that’s it. It’s never going to get any worse than that.” I’ve dialed back the hyperbole in review headlines a lot in recent years, because I didn’t want to wear out the “Worst Movie of the Year!” title. After movies like Norbit and Taylor Lautner’s Abduction or Ethan Hawke’s Getaway, merely terrible films no longer deserve “worst” monikers.
But people! Last night, I witnessed something magical. I got to be one of the first — and only, I suspect — people to see Halle Berry’s Kidnap in theaters, and it feels like an honor to have experienced firsthand the worst movie of the year, and perhaps the decade. I’m not exaggerating, either. I mean, maybe worse movies have been made, but as far as movies being released into theaters? Nothing compares, and I saw The Emoji Movie last weekend.
In fact, when the movie ended, I stood up and pumped my fist in triumph, celebrating myself for having endured an atrocity of such depths. There were only three other people remaining in the theater (everyone else had fled by the midway point, and you’ll almost never see people walk out of theaters unless it’s a critic’s screening of a film festival), and — confused at my giddiness — they asked, “Did you like that movie?” I said, “No, it’s the worst movie I have ever seen!” “Right?!” they shot back. “I can’t believe how awful that was.” And at that moment, I felt a kinship with these three college-aged men, one of whom was wearing long socks with flip flops, for we had suffered through something together. It would bond us forever.
Full Disclosure: I am a person who seldom gets ill, so I do not know how adult cold medicine works, and before the movie — so that I wouldn’t interrupt other theatergoers with a hacking cough — I drank cough medicine, not realizing that you’re not supposed to take a drink every time you feel a cough coming on (I had also taken some DayQuil beforehand). By the time the movie started, I was very, very drunk. So drunk, in fact, that I nearly missed my seat when sitting down. But this did not affect my judgment of the film. It only heightened my appreciation for how terrible it was.
SPOILERS for the Entire Plot, Such As It Is
OSCAR WINNNER Halle Berry stars as Karla Dyson. She is a waitress, but that is not important, nor is the fact that she’s going through a divorce and custody battle over her six-year-old son, because these issues will not be brought up again after the first five minutes. Context is irrelevant.
One day, Karla is in the park with her son Frankie (Sage Correa). She leaves her son behind for a moment to take a phone call, and when she turns around, her son is gone, hence the title.
After frantically searching through the park for her son — often in slo-mo — she spots his abductor throwing him in the backseat of a 1980s Ford Mustang GT. After dropping her phone (because OF COURSE she drops her phone), she jumps in her minivan and pursues this Mustang. She pursues it for FIFTY MINUTES (I checked my watch). For nearly one hour, Kidnap features a crazed Halle Berry talking to herself while trailing another car, the occupants of which we never see until they get out of the car later in the film. It’s just back and forth shots of this Mustang on the freeway and Halle Berry begging Jesus to allow her not to lose sight of the Mustang. At one point, a police officer on a motorcycle tries to pull her over, but the motorcycle gets caught between the Mustang and the minivan, and the cop is killed. At that point, one of the abductors gets out of the Mustang, gets in the minivan, and the minivan continues to trail the Mustang until Karla manages to toss the woman out of the minivan in a scrum. Afterwards, she continues to pursue the Mustang. This continues for another 25 minutes, from the freeway to the back roads.
Part of me had dearly hoped that the entire movie would amount to nothing more than Halle Berry talking to herself in the driver’s seat of a minivan until both cars ran out of gas. Alas, in the last act, after she does finally run out of gas and gets into it with a second abductor with a shotgun (where was that shotgun for the first 50 minutes?!) things move from the freeway into the home of a third hillbilly abductor (there were a lot of people inside of that Ford Mustang), where Karla finds herself tiptoeing through the house for what must have been 15 full minutes, mostly mumbling to herself. Eventually, there is a final confrontation under water (“YOU PICKED THE WRONG KID!”). The camera work is so schlocky and awful that it’s impossible to actual tell what happens, but at the end of it, Halle Berry is still standing, and — in voiceover — we hear a man on the radio celebrating an average working woman who apparently broke up a three-state child abduction ring.
That’s it. That’s the movie. A 50-minute car chase followed by a slow-moving showdown inside a house and an adjacent barn, where the kidnapped kids are being held. And look: I understand that this is an exercise in some exploitation genre popular in the 1970s. It doesn’t make the film good. Emulating garbage — if, in fact, is what this is supposed to be — does not make it any less garbage-y. It just makes it an abysmal 2017 movie that pays homage to a once popular genre comprised of a lot of terrible movies. Kidnap would be the worst among even those.
Objectively speaking, this is a terrible movie: It’s nearly 90 minutes of close-ups of a woman talking to herself and bless her, but Halle Berry’s performance here is heinous. Take Winona Ryder’s overacting in Stranger Things and triple it. “MY BABY! MY BABY! DON’T YOU TOUCH MY BABY! PLEASE JESUS” she says to no one, repeatedly, while driving a minivan. That’s it. That’s the movie. There’s barely enough plot here to justify a short five-minute film, and it is stretched until a full-length feature that someone actually thought was a good idea to put in theaters!
And it was, because in this era of franchise films and competent mediocrity, movies this terrible do not come along very often. I do not mean The Mummy terrible or The Emoji Movie terrible. I’m not even talking about Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser of Fantastic Four terrible. I am talking about Zardoz terrible, terrible enough to become an instant How Did This Get Made classic. So bad that it’s intoxicating, bad enough that it feels like a victory for having endured it. The movie itself is staggering in its awfulness, but the sense of accomplishment for having made it through is exhilarating, and that’s not just the cough medicine talking. Kidnap is triumphant in its awfulness, a movie that truly deserves the title of “worst.”